Differing Dress Code as Sex Discrimination

By Staff Report

Oct. 22, 2006

Donna Leonard, a sales manager for Rainbow Play Systems, implemented a dress code requiring men to purchase and wear denim shirts with the company’s logo and women to purchase and wear navy blazers over polo shirts. In implementing this policy, Leonard said that women needed “to cover up their boobs” and “rear ends.” Michelle Rohaly was fired from her job as a saleswoman when she refused to purchase and wear a navy blazer.

Rohaly sued under Title VII and claimed that the dress code was discriminatory against women. The company argued that the dress code was not discriminatory because it required all employees to purchase specific types of clothing and imposed financial burdens on both sexes.

The Washington State Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment for Rainbow Play Systems because Leonard’s sexist comments evidenced that sex may have played a role in the decision to implement the dress code. Therefore, the dress code policy might constitute disparate treatment on the basis of sex. Michelle Rohaly v. Rainbow Playground Depot Inc., Wash. Ct. App., No. 56478, No. 56478-1-I (8/28/06).

Impact: Because one manager’s sexist comments could show that the company’s reasons for its policy are a pretext, employers should consider periodic training of managers and supervisors about how they conduct themselves in equal employment opportunity matters.

Schedule, engage, and pay your staff in one system with